Cody BoyteGrowth and marketing automation expert
Bio

Growth and marketing automation expert. Currently helping mid-market startups to Fortune 500 enterprises select the right marketing technologies at Oracle. Former growth hacker at Axial.



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I think you already answered your own question. Start with the market you know - investment banking.

This is clearly an extension of virtual document rooms. Start there. Who buys VDRs? Target them. Figure out which conferences Merrill and Intralinks attend. Go there as an attendee, corner a few people, and figure out who else has the same problem. Sell a few of them. Then buy a booth at the next one and set up some real meetings.

One huge trick to SaaS is to stay very focused on an achievable, small market first. Then, as you get traction, start expanding you markets and capabilities. The biggest problem in SaaS is that either your development team or your sales team is always going to be behind. It's much more likely it'll be your development team. The more markets you add just creates more initial complexity and slows down your developers.

Build a tightly defined product and market it to one market. Then create derivative products and expand your brand.

I'm happy to chat through more strategy with you if you'd like to go deeper, but I think you already have the first market figured out.



Fast growing, UK B2C SaaS doesn't really give me enough information. The most critical piece of information is your revenue/growth rate or valuation. That's going to determine both who your potential acquirers are and who the best type of firm is to help you sell.

M&A firms tend to be broken into four big groups, generally based around size: full service investment banks, boutique investment banks, M&A advisors, and business brokers.

At the top are Full Service Investment Banks. These are firms like Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanely, JP Morgan, etc. They work on the biggest and most complex deals, usually nothing less than $1 billion in transaction value (their 'midmarket' teams will do $500M transactions occasionally, but not often). They also tend to offer more than just advisory, including providing funding, other capital markets transactions, banking services, etc for massive corporations. When Dell was taken private by Michael Dell and Silver Lake, bankers from Barclays and Parella Weinberg advised them. JP Morgan Chase advised Dell, the company. Barclays was also one of the four banks to provide the $15 billion in loans to finance the deal along with Bank of America Merrill Lynch, Credit Suisse and RBC Capital.

Parella Weinberg is an example of the next level down - a boutique investment bank. Boutique investment banks tend to focus on larger transactions as well, usually in the $300MM-$50B range. Some firms, like Parella Weinberg, Jeffries, Moelis, etc will be the boutique bank attached to a very large deal like the Dell deal. Most often though, boutique banks are running their own transactions in the $100MM - $1B range. Boutique banks also tend to focus on a few industries where they have expertise or will have teams of bankers focused on specific industries for mid-market companies. Piper Jaffray and Cowen both have Technology, Media and Telecom (TMT) focused banking teams, for example. Boutique banks won't provide financing most of the time, unless they're a merchant bank, as they're specifically focused on helping you close a deal.

Below boutique banks is a group of people called M&A advisors. They'll often refer to themselves as investment bankers, but in most cases they aren't actually registered with FINRA as an investment bank. Or they will be registered, but through a different firm. M&A advisors tend to work deals in the $20-100MM range, though they will occasionally work larger deals. Typically the larger, more complex deals are run alongside a boutique bank, in some ways similar to how boutiques will run alongside a full service bank. Once you get to this level of advisor/banker, there starts to be thousands of bankers who all have different expertise. Some of the advisors used to work at boutiques or full service banks and decided to go out on their own so they have very good contacts. Others started out in a very small advisory and have worked their way up. You're going to want to make sure you really vet their contacts and understand what deals they've *closed* in the past (not just worked on). GrowthPoint Technology Partners is an example of a good bank of this size that is focused on technology deals. M&A advisors tend not to have a lot of deals happening at once, so they'll spend more time with you helping you value your business, structure the pitch deck, etc.

The bottom rung of the ladder is what are called business brokers. Brokers tend to be more focused on volume than strategic buyers. They're going to help you widely advertise that your business is for sale and then will help you manage the process of dealing with buyers. Relative to the other options, they're going to feel a little bit more like a real estate agent. A technology example of this is FEInternational. They'll help you sell your website/business by advertising it widely to other individuals who would potentially be interesting in buying from you. Their average sale prices are in the $100k - $10MM range. At this level, they'll have expertise helping you close the deal, but mostly as a straightforward transaction. It's unlikely to be a stock for stock sale or have any complexities other than some sort of escrow and a bit of due diligence.

One of the best ways to figure out how you should value your business, who you should be chatting with, and how to get the most value for your business would be to work with Axial (http://www.axial.net). They have a network of 20,000 investment bankers, private equity groups, and corporations.

Axial has put together a very good guide that will help you better understand your options, what you should be doing next, etc as you prepare to sell: http://www.axial.net/forum/ceo_library/

I hope that helps. I'm happy to chat more in-depth if you have further questions, just connect with me here on Clarity. Good luck selling your business.


For four years, I was the marketing manager at Axial, a two sided marketplace that matches investors with companies looking to sell their businesses. We figured out the chicken and egg problem, then figured out how to market and sell each side in a way that scaled.

When you think about building a two-sided marketplace it seems daunting, as your question reflects. It feels like you need to get everyone active all at once in order to create any value for anyone. But the truth is that you really only need to get one side engaged.

The way I think about two-sided marketplaces is like a grocery store. A grocery store is one of the original two sided marketplaces: there’s a customer who needs fruit or milk or something else and there is a farmer who needs to sell fruit or milk. The grocery is the conduit between them, the two sided marketplace. If the farmer (or other vendor) can’t consistently sell their goods at the store, they’ll sell somewhere else. If the shopper doesn’t find the fruit or bread or other products they’re looking for on a regular basis, they’ll go somewhere else.

The value of thinking about a two-sided marketplace like a grocery store is that it’s obvious who needs the product now and who is willing to wait awhile. The shopper has a very time limited window to buy the product - they’re going to be in the store for a half hour then they leave. If the product isn’t on the shelf, they’re not waiting for it. If the fruit is bad, they’re not buying it.

The product on the shelf, on the other hand, can wait around. But each product does have a shelf life - some products, like canned foods, might last years while others, like fresh fruit or bread, might last only a couple of days. So, while the times need to match up, each side has different time requirements.

In hacking a two-sided marketplace it helps tremendously to figure out which side of your market is the shopper and which side is the product. It’s not always obvious though. Sometimes what is being “bought” on your marketplace is actually the shopper.

In the case of Axial, we were helping investors buy companies. It seems like the shopper is the investor. But it’s not - they’re actually the ones willing to wait around for the right company to come to them. The company being sold actually has a very short time frame to find the right buyer - usually a two week window in a well run sale process. On our marketplace, the two underlying assets were investor profiles and company profiles (to simplify everything). The investor profiles actually became our product on the shelf while the companies became the shoppers - even though it was the investors buying the companies. The investors were more willing to wait for the right company rather than the other way around.

That insight helped us understand how to hack the marketplace to success. The side that is willing to wait around longer is almost always the easier side to collect. If you’re starting a grocery store, it’s always better to go talk to all the vendors and fill your store with product before you open it to shoppers. Leading shoppers through an empty store doesn’t meet their immediate need of needing to make dinner tonight. Talking to a farmer about the neighborhood customers you’ll have as soon as you open is a lot easier. And the farmer is more willing to have low sales at first in order to secure his spot on your shelves so his competitors don’t get the prime space he’s going to want later.

If you think about Uber, which is clearly creating a two-sided marketplace of drivers and riders, they operate exactly the same way. In Uber’s case, the driver is the product on the shelf. The rider is the shopper. The drivers are willing to drive around for hours looking for rides. A rider will open the app, see if they can get a ride quickly, and if not will go to an alternative like Lyft, a taxi or the train/subway.

That’s why Uber is spending so much money to acquire new drivers. They’ll pay drivers thousands to join, even buying them cars in some cases. They’ll sign limo drivers up as Uber Black drivers, convincing them that they’ll make as much or more than they are in the limo business. Then, when there is only UberX riders around and not enough drivers, Uber will eat the cost of paying an Uber Black driver to drive an UberX ride.

Uber realizes that riders (shoppers) only use Uber (visit the store) if they’re confident good rides available when they want them (products they want are in stock and fresh). So Uber is hacking the product and letting it sit on the shelf (drivers driving around looking for rides) because that’s the only way to make sure they don’t lose to taxis or Lyft.

I hope that gives you a framework to use as you think about growing or starting your two-sided marketplace. If you’d like to chat with me as you think through your marketplace, I’m available as an expert here on Clarity. I’m happy to make specific suggestions for how you can structure and grow your business. Good luck.


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